We have to get our residency permits renewed. For some reason, this means we will be without our passports for three weeks. This period overlaps the end of the month, when I get paid. Since I need my passport to transfer our money out of the country (a little shout-out to the trilemma right there), I will not be able to transfer any of this paycheck to our American bank account, so we've had to transfer larger sums the previous two months to prepare for this. As a result, we are artificially quite poor for the next week.
Last week we got an e-mail from one of our bureaucrat liaisons (a serious job description though not a serious job title) that said everyone had to give him four passport photos for this process, and when I asked if we could just reprint the photos we used last year, he said our photos from last year were unsatisfactory and he had had to talk the bureaucrat into accepting them. And, while this is a bureaucratic requirement of my working here, any photo expense is on me.
My wife found a place on the main shopping street in our area that told her it would be ¥20 each for a set of four passport photos. So today we went on a family field trip to the passport photo store.
In the front of the shop was a female employee going over photos with a couple. In the next area back were two male employees. I got the impression that the employees were a married couple and an adult son. The two guys asked what we wanted. We pointed at the passport pictures. They asked something else. I said, "Wǒ bù míngbái pǔtōnghuà," which is close enough to "I don't understand Mandarin" to make my point. So they motioned for us to follow them to a back room photo studio, where we took turns getting our chins tilted for us. Screamapilar was a little worried, but we only needed one shot of him looking at the camera, and eventually we got one.
Then came the surprise Photoshopping. This process took longer than the actual photo shoot. In America, when you get a passport picture taken, your face fills the required area and they press "print." I thought things would be similar here, but I was quickly disabused of that idea when they opened the first picture file and removed a mole on Articulate Joe's cheek.
Then my wife and I got to watch them Photoshop us, which was demoralizing. It was less offensive, though, than watching them do our kids. We are aware of our flaws, but we think our kids look great. The photographer didn't, though. The only bit of Photoshopping on our kids with which we agreed, though, was when the guy got rid of all the dried food on Screamapilar's face; my wife was gone for a lot of the day and I was in charge of getting the kids ready for their pictures.
Eventually, the guy printed pictures that are much smaller than we were told to get and on a white background even though the bureaucrats supposedly need a black background, but this dude's job is to print passport photos and my school's bureaucrat liaison didn't give us any instructions in Chinese, so screw them. (If unsatisfactory photos could be accepted last time, they can get them accepted again.) The grand total was ¥180, which was 50% more than they'd told my wife yesterday. Probably all that Photoshopping.